Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Vacation Day Left Behind

In yet another display of our country's admirable--yet incessant--work ethic, a recent survey found that the average American worker leaves 6.2 paid vacation days unused at the end of the year....that's just crazy! You have the time, why not take it?

Another survey showed that 57% of workers do not use all their vacation days each year, with the average number of days left was 11....how can this be? That's a two week vacation right there! You could take a nice long trip abroad in that time, or take a few long weekends for quick trips somewhere close by. The possibilities are endless, and yet people are reluctant to take the time. You work hard, you earn those vacation days, so use them! Most of the time, companies will only let a certain number of days roll over to the next year, and those usually have an expiration date on them.

My company, for example, only rolls over five vacation days at the end of the year, and those need to be used by March, otherwise you lose them. And that's paid, scheduled time off. Our sick days don't roll over at all, so I lose those come December 31, no matter what. I like my job, I work hard, I rarely call in sick or take advantage of our work-from-home policy. But you better believe that I will take every day off that I possibly can, because I'm not one to let things go to waste.

The respondents to the surveys cited the recession and high unemployment as reasons for not taking time off, and I can understand that logic. No one wants to be seen as a slacker or lazy by taking an extra day or two for a vacation, especially when so many people are being laid off and companies are making cuts to budgets. However, businesses give these days to their employees because they are required to do it, and as long as people do not abuse that privilege, there is nothing wrong with taking the time one has allotted.

Vacation days are sacred gifts, especially around the holidays. I plan on spending as much time as I can with my family, and that means taking a couple extra days off around Christmas. But I will not hesitate in requesting that time; it's important to take a break every once and a while for yourself. In my opinion, having a vacation--even if it's just one day or a long weekend--can make you a more efficient and happy employee.

So go ahead, pencil in a vacation day or two, especially if you have a few stacked up. Because that average is way to high for my liking.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Home for the Holidays

In a little over 48 hours from now, I will be sitting in an airport terminal waiting to board a plane home to Denver. This will be my first Thanksgiving with my family in three years, and, needless to say, I am ecstatic!!

Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed my last few Thanksgivings here in Chicago, but there is just something about being home for the holidays. It was difficult the first year that I decided not to go back to Denver, but I accepted that I would probably have holidays away from my family in the future, so it was a good way to prepare. I knew I would encounter different traditions, mannerisms, activities and even food, since everyone has their own versions of Thanksgiving dishes. Some of the food I liked more than others (not a fan of the jello molds, but the raisin-filled stuffing and pumpkin pie cheesecake certainly were tasty) and I have never been one to take part in Black Friday shopping until I met my old boyfriend's family. It was all an eye opening experience, but that has come to an end. Now, it is time to venture back, because there really is no place like home. (I know, but Dorothy totally knew what she was talking about.)

I cannot wait to do all the things I love to do with my family on Thanksgiving--bake fresh bread from scratch, watch/play football all day, help prepare all the food (though I usally focus on the cranberries and potatoes), chat for hours at the table after dinner and then sleep off our food comas late into Friday morning (no Black Friday shopping for us). Just the thought of getting to spend this time with my family is making me feel incredibly nostalgic and slightly emotional--though I must keep it together, seeing as I am at work.

This year, I will be changing things up slightly by doing a four-mile Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning with my friends. Though I have never done it before, I believe it will be a good tradition to adopt, since it means I can eat even more at dinner. Another event I am looking forward to is my best friend's 25th birthday, which is Friday. It's also her golden birthday, so we're getting decked out in our finest glittery, gold outfits and hitting the town.

Who knows what the rest of the weekend will hold, but I am sure I'll love every second of it.

I totally enourage people to see the world and experience other cultures, especially their holiday traditions, but there is something about going home. It will be a truly special time for my family, mostly because it will be the first time in three years that we are all together. And that means a lot, particularly for my grandpa, who has been struggling with his health this year. In all honesty, I think I am most excited to see him. Because if this past year has taught me anything, it's that family is the most important thing in your life. They are there for you no matter what, your constant support system. And since I'm so far away from mine, these are the moments I really cherish.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Fares...Don't Wait to Buy!

If you're thinking that if you wait until the last minute to get flights home for Thanksgiving, fares will be cheaper, think again.

Industry experts are expecting air travel around the holidays to be much more expensive than last year, with airfare said to be around $375 for Thanksgiving. Not only will prices be higher, but seats will be limited. Airlines have cut capacity 11% this year, which means fewer flights to a certain destination or smaller planes used on routes. So the chances of snagging that preferred aisle seat for a reasonable price are pretty slim this year.

And Christmas isn't looking much better for travelers. Those fares could be anywhere from 6% to 12% higher than last year, so no matter what, you're going to be paying more, even if you buy them now or later. I recommend getting them sooner, because at least that way you will have more seating options to choose from.

I was lucky this year, snagging Thanksgiving flights for around $300 round-trip, and Christmas for about $250 round-trip. But I have a tendency to start looking at flights far in advance of a trip, especially one that will be taking place over  a holiday. When I ventured to Boston earlier in the year for Fourth of July, I booked those tickets in February. You better believe I got a much better price than those girls who booked last minute. Then again, many airlines will roll out airfare promotions and limited-time offers, so in those cases, I say don't hesitate and jump on them!